14 thoughts on “Hurricane Hunting”

  1. Put this question right next to ‘jeez why are we sending men to space can’t we do it all with robotics?’

    Suspecting you need something that is fairly massive and has power to be flying thru the Hurricane. Can’t just take an off the shelf drone and I doubt a Reaper or even a Global hawk is enough
    They have already outfitted C130s, Wp-3d and Gulf streams with everything they need.
    They only lost 1 aircraft 65 years ago
    Best bet would be converting one of the manned planes for drone operations. Which would be an expensive custom job. But then get into costs benefits vs manned and the risks.
    Other consideration
    How fast is the response to turbulence would a drone pilot be vs a pilot in the seat?
    You need a fast , wide bandwidth data link setup for flying, telemetry scientific instruments, in close proximity to a hurricane. Interaction between the pilot and the science operators. Doubt the onboard AI Pilot capable of handling the turbulence until quite recently or maybe not even yet.
    So the reality is they will keep sending manned until the existing aircraft need to be replaced or upgraded.
    Though something like this with cheaper/expendable drones with various science kits be interesting though where the point of diminishing returns on the science?

    1. As the opportunity presents itself, I 90% agree with the above. Most drones are built slow speed and loiter, which means low weight and long wings. Also, they do quite a bit of science on board the aircraft in real time, while just communicating with a drone in that atmospheric environment would be a challenge. Throw in a payload of drop buoys, and you might as well just use a plane you have.

      However, 10% says it is still a jobs program, but it is a worthwhile one for government. Doing high risk activities that provide large value is a good role for government.

      I do think we should consider drones precisely because they can loiter longer. It might be good to get into these storms further out and gain information while they develop. In the meantime, I think we will need people willing to fly in hurricanes, just like we need pilots to fly planes to fight wild fires.

    2. Turning a C-130 into a drone wouldn’t be a problem, the Air Force has been turning retired fighters into drones for many years for target practice. They used up all the F-4’s and are working their way through the F-15 and 16. A C-130 should be a piece of cake.

      Flying through the storms isn’t unduly dangerous, they have good radar and are free to alter course to avoid the most dangerous stuff.

      I’m pretty sure that anybody suggesting publicly replacing a maned mission with a drone will find a frosty reception at the O-Club. They’re fighting a rear guard action as it is.

  2. As I understand it, the big factor that can’t be measured remotely is air pressure. Could deployable small drones be lofted over eye walls using a suborbital vehicle, possibly air launched? That would remove the problem of encountering the enormous wind shear near the eye wall.

  3. Just deploy dropsondes from drones at 65,000 feet. No hurricane there. No need to risk people. Dropsondes with GPS, temperature, pressure and humidity measuring sensors. Gives you wind and the other variables of interest. Drone relays collected data via satellite to base. A version of the MQ-4C would do nicely. You’d only need two.

    1. Well looks like they have already done your version Mike. But they went and upgraded the Orions a few years later. Wonder if the costs and operating costs of the Global Hawks/MQ-4C were a factor?

      1. NASA’s first two Global Hawks were AV-1 (the very first RQ-4) and AV-6; these are the original configuration, built under the original ACTD contract with DARPA/AF, and have some parts in them that have no spares available. (For those keeping count: AV-1 and AV-6 went to NASA; AV-4 and AV-5 were deployed to the Middle East in late 2001 and were eventually lost in theater due to human error; AV-3 is in the AF Museum in Dayton; and AV-2 was lost in the infamous “inadvertent termination” accident, when some nameless test range decided to check out its flight termination equipment without checking in with anyone else…and terminated a perfectly good aircraft flying on a different range.)

        When the AF retired its Block 10 GHs (the original design with a fair amount of avionics and mission equipment updates), NASA was in line to get several, but I don’t know if they actually did. But NASA has regularly flown its Global Hawks over hurricanes and dropped sensors into said hurricanes. As far as the P-3s goes, my guess is that updating/maintaining those vehicles is cheaper than updating/maintaining the RQ-4s, due to a fair amount of bespoke hardware and software on the latter.

  4. A single engine Global Hawk can’t really be more expensive to operate than a 4 engined P-3, surely? Particularly without all the secret squirrel gear.

    1. A fly-by-wire aircraft will generally have overall higher O&S costs than a simple* fully manual aircraft. But if you need the capabilities of that FBW aircraft, you need it.

      *emphasis on simple; there have been situations in the last thirty years where a manager said, “Fly-by-wire? We don’t need no steenkin’ fly-by-wire!” on a decidedly not simple configuration, and ended up with an airplane with several large holes in its planned flight envelope – holes bad enough where golden-arm test pilots said, “no, I am NOT putting this airplane in that configuration again, no matter how bad you want it.” A mechanical flight control system just couldn’t provide the required augmentation to even get to Level 3 handling qualities in portions of the envelope, and bypassing those areas cut their test efficiency by a large fraction.

  5. This is going to sound harsh, but that’s not my intent.

    Wadded panties shouldn’t be done when they’re not necessary.

    A kind of Occam’s razor kinda thing.

    (We lived within 10 miles of one another. Then you moved to Cali. I’m from Oregon. We really dislike Cali’s.)

    I’m thinking Reparations.

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